Hi Everyone, I’ve been reading a lot in this forum and it has been very helpful!!
I’m 42 and I’m considering switching career path to become a commercial pilot. It’s something I have always wanted to do but I’ve never had the chance (Jobs, Kids, family, etc…).
Considering my age and that this would be my job (only source of income) these are my questions:
-) Am I too old to start this new path?
-) At this time I make around $90k in my current job, how long (estimate) would it take me to surpass that number as a Commercial Pilot?
-) Considering my age and that for me succeeding in this career would be to make $200K+ at some point, which option has the most success probabilities: going to regionals and then Majors OR flying corporate, charter, etc… ??
Some of your questions are fairly easy, others are not:
No, as long as you’re realistic with your expectations. In all likelihood you wont be a 787 Capt flying to Narita (but it is possible) but you can have a very nice 20yr career.
First figure 2yrs with min or no pay while training/instructing/building time. Upgrade times at the Regionals is about 2-3yrs which will get you close $90k as will first year at a Major which might take a couple more. Thing is right now the shortage is raging and movement is very fast but as we learned from Covid things can change in a minute. No guarantees.
Almost impossible to answer. Good corp gigs pay well, crappy ones don’t and the good ones are hard to get unless you know someone. With the current movement at the airlines, it could be really fast depending on your flexibility. Delta right now has 1yr Capt upgrade on the 717 NY base. That’s $230k a year. I know a pilot who was hired there after 3yrs at a Regional so their whole journey took 6yrs to $200k plus. Will you do the same? Will things slow? Will they speed up? No one knows for certain. What I can tell you is if you’re doing this purely for the paycheck that’s not a great reason. I know many who have and as soon as there’s a hitch and things slow they bail after investing alot of time, money and sacrifice. There are zero guarantees in this industry.
On the 2nd year, is it possible for anyone working as a CFI at ATP to work enough hours to get to the $60k?? What I mean by this is, can you just take as many hours you want to get to that number or it would depend on the hours that ATP assigns to each person ??
I saw in the website that the average CFI makes between $2 and $3k per month at ATP
It would not. The average is mid to high $20s with some going higher. The FAA limits the amount of training an instructor can do in a day and month and there’s simply no way with the regulations you could get to that high a number. Further, just as you want to be instructed by a well rested and not burned out instructor, your students will deserve the same.
I would like to say that I don’t worry about the paycheck but even though I want to pursue this career because I’ve always wanted I cannot dismiss the fact that I’m going to be living on this salary
Adam, is there another way to achieve the required training to go to the regionals where the pay could be higher than as a CFI ?? I know that as CFI is the recommended and fastest way but I would like to know if there’s an option (even if it takes a bit longer than the required being a CFI) that could make it easier in terms of making a living during that time.
I’m just trying to see if this would be feasible for me at this point
That’s really up to you and to some degree where you’re located. There aren’t a ton of jobs for low time pilots and most don’t really pay well becausec they know it (supply and demand). When I was building time, before I started instructing I did some banner towing over the beach but that actually paid less than instructing. There are other low time gigs (crop dusting, surveying, traffic watch, light cargo) but again they’re hard to come by and generally don’t pay well.
You need to do some investigating in your area and see what’s available. Keep in mind that the longer it takes you to build the time, the longer it’ll take to make it to the airlines and start recouping some money.
Each student is allotted a certain number of hours per phase. You fly those hours only. Nothing more unless you’re covering a flight for another instructor or something. You can anticipate 1-3 students. With three, that’s about 75 hours a month, which is the average.
When it comes to covering your loan payment, there are programs set up for graduated repayment (see below). Or you can apply for cadet programs with tuition reimbursement l. Both options free you up from loan payments while instructing so the income you make goes towards living expenses.
Pilot Training Loan Repayment / ATP Flight School)
I do not know ATPs current pay structure for instructors. It’s changed multiple times since 2018.
At other flight schools, instructors that needed more money would focus on ground instructing, sim instructing or management duties.
There are no FAA limits on these and you can average 6-8hrs/day of pay instead of Flight time which is usually 4hr/day (more variables = more cancellations).
Obviously the downside is Flight time is the main requirement to move on to the Airlines.
Thanks to all of you. You’ve been very helpful!!
Let us know if there is anything else we can help you with. That’s what we’re here for!
I don’t know if you can help me with this but more of a general question about the estate of the industry
I’ve learnt that whenever something is being talked too much is probably signs of a top or being late on the wave of a cycle in any industry (Like when everyone talks about real estate, stock market, crypto, etc, then that’s probably the top). In the last month I have been at 2 parties where some guys were talking about how well pilots are being paid, the need for pilots in the airlines, etc… and I have rarely ever heard someone talk about pilots in a party or meeting.
I don’t know if the reason is because since now that I’m thinking on being a pilot I pay more attention to people talking about it or if it is something else.
Have you guys seen an unusual spike in people joining ATP in the last months ??
Have you noticed an unusual interest in this career lately or is it comparable to other times before??
If many people are showing interest and joining flight schools at the moment (I don’t know if this is the case now), do you think there could be a glut of pilots graduating and trying to join the labor force in a couple of years that could make finding a job too hard?
I know everything has a cycle and there will be a boom and a bust in this industry like in all the others but I would like to have an idea of how you see it and how far in the cycle (beginning, middle or top) you think we are.
I think it depends on your social circle. I’m surrounded by pilots so the crazy times we are saying is top of the talk often. You see an article or a clip on the news every so often around busy days or holidays. Regardless, people are trying to become airline pilots daily.
With new contracts showing huge pay increases and industry leading benefits, I think more people are deciding to take the leap. It’s known that with the current amount of ATP rated pilots we have now, it won’t be enough to patch the hole left by a huge wave of retirements. Airlines are predicting the shortage to last between 8-10 years with the bulk of the hiring in the next 5. So yes, eventually the revolving door will slow and stop for a time. It always has. The joke is “airlines hire until they furlough”. Hiring will continue all the way up to a crash when people will be let go. You want to be in the door before that door closes and with as many seniority numbers between you and the bottom.
It’s not your imagination. You can’t watch or read the news etc without seeing some story of the pilot shortage, flights being cancelled, and how much pilots get paid bla bla bla. Recently when I’m out with people who aren’t in aviation the subject comes up. The thought of a practically guarateed position that pays really well and let’s face it is kinda cool is very attractive to many.
Thing is the hype is legit. We are short on bodies, restrictions are being lowered and pay is going up. How long this will continue is anybody’s guess but it won’t be remedied any time soon that’s for certain. You also are correct this, this like many industries is cyclic. The difference while many people are talking about it and asking about it, few are willing to take the leap, invest the time and money and do the work required to reach their goals.
I’ve recently noticed a huge amount of interest in pickleball. Everyone I know is talking about it, playing it and of course is an expert. The difference is all you need to do for that is buy a paddle and show up. This takes a bit more
Thanks guys. Good to know it isn’t only my imagination…
Is it normal for pilots in Regional or Majors to get to 65 working and retire or are they usually retired earlier (mandatory) ??
What do airlines give pilots when they retire them early?? I hope it’s not just a high five
Some work till 65, others choose to retire early and some are forced to. Regardless you get your 401k and a handshake (and whatever vacationand sick time they have outstandin). There are no “golden parachutes” for pilots.
You get whatever you have saved in your 401k and sometimes a plaque or something like that to commemorate your time at the airline. The airlines never force somebody to retire early, you work until you are 65, you chose to retire early, or you have a medical issue develop. There are no forced retirements.
Just to clarify when I say “forced” I mean due to losing their medical. As in they don’t desire to retire, they are “forced” to.
I think they give the pilot some type of incentives when the airlines offers to retire you early. Like when COVID first hit Post-Pandemic Pilot Shortage
When things get bad and airlines cut personnel for economic reasons do they cut from the top (more seniority), least seniority or random ?
Another question not related:
Since I don’t think I’m the kind of guy that would like to fully retire at 65, because I believe one must maintain the brain and body active into something productive to not get old fast. What do most pilots do after retirement?? Is there a realistic option for retired pilots of that age ??
What you’re referring to is something very unique and practically never happens. When the pandemic hit hard and the travel came to a screeching halt the airlines were looking for ways to save money. To answer your second question, since EVERYTHING at the airlines is based on seniority, anytime an airline needs to cut jobs it’s always done in reverse seniority (ie, newest, most junior pilots first). The problem is the most junior pilots are also the lowest paid and a senior widebody Capt can literally be earning 5 times what a newhire is. The senior pilots also fly considerably less, so from a business standpoint it’s always better if you can drop one senior pilot (who’s close to leaving) than dropping 5 more productive ones (who have their whole careers ahead of them), but the union contracts say they can’t. What they can do is offer them early outs and yes in those cases there may be some incentives. Again this is very rare.
Unfortunately again many pilots lose their medicals before they hit 65. Some of them become instructors for their airlines or even other carriers. Those in good health often seek other flying jobs flying corporate or charters that don’t have the mandatory retirement. Still others resume former careers or businesses they built as pilots. The options are endless.